Posted by: markfender | February 17, 2015

C:tL – Eyes on Fire: Twist

While running my Changeling: the Lost game, I did one of those things you’re not supposed to do – change the genre.

reikoWhat started as a perfectly innocent urban fantasy game in the United State’s most ridiculous town, changed rapidly into a post-apocalyptic game. And I didn’t tell the players that this was going to happen. Which is pretty much a dick move. I’ve never been a fan of that particular method of gaming. I wanted to play Star Wars, not end up on the Starship Enterprise (an actual example I once read – the mind boggles about who thought that was a good idea).

However, one of the things I like about the post-apocalyptic genre is how ordinary people deal with their world shifting on them. I’m not as interested in the hardened survivors surviving in a harsh world, but rather seeing the mores and morals of the times being subverted by the need to survive. And so, you can’t really prep your players for that sort of thing. The post-apocalyptic stories I’ve enjoyed usually revolve around that struggle. In other words, Mad Max doesn’t appeal as much The Walking Dead does.

So, once I reconciled myself to the fact that I had to twist the genre in order to get the types of story I wanted, I had to figure out how to do it without my players complaining. To do that, I primarily used three methods:

  • I hinted. The song I based the campaign on laid out the foundations of that. In fact, many of the songs I picked hinted, in abstract, poetry terms, about the world ending. The song for the session in which the world ended was probably the most blatant. Granted, that requires my players to read the lyrics and perhaps do a little critical analysis, but the pieces were there. In the game itself, I had some of the Gentry hint vaguely at some grand plan as well, a grand plan that wouldn’t end well for the characters. This method doesn’t preclude pulling the rug out from under the players, but it does at least allow reflection to notice the signs. In a game not using music, this would have been harder to do, but still doable.
  • I made the players responsible. The PCs were critical to kicking off the event that brought the Gentry to the real world. By making it their actions, I make them responsible. And while they can still complain about what happened, their characters have more buy-in than if it had just been some random NPC that ruined everything.
  • I kept things familiar. The same NPCs are involved, just in different positions. The first thing the survivors did was reestablish their Court system, followed by a new Pledge (Both instigated by NPCs, but with the details left in the player’s hands). Tiny things like this allow control to be reestablished and it’s the tiny things to regain control that alleviate the anxiety of massive change. It doesn’t do much for the event itself, but it helps “normalacy” return.

All of those methods don’t necessarily mean that the players will take to the twist. But I think they can help. Note also that these are all player-facing things. Their characters can react however they want. But what I’m trying to avoid is a rebellion by the players themselves to the twist.

I’m a big fan of parallel universes. I like to see how already established characters are changed/adapt to new circumstances. From Elseworlds comics to every third episode of Supernatural, I enjoy seeing how characters can be reinterpreted based on their surroundings. But that’s hard to do in RPGs. Enough time has to be spent in the “normal” world before the characters are firmly established so that twisting them with some parallel universe stuff will showcase the characters and not just the weird setting. In RPGs, this means you pretty much have to design two settings, which is a lot of work. That’s the primary reason I had the players create the setting themselves. I already knew the apocalyptic stuff was coming, but didn’t have much for the “real world” stuff. The fact that the setting was their responsibility might have also helped them swallow the twist a little more.

I knew it was actually working when I ran it because I got “oh shit!” comments rather than “what the fuck?” comments. I’m much happier with going for the Fight Club twist than The Village twist.

However, my group is notorious for dropping/changing characters. I’ve got two players who do this on a regular basis. One of them usually switches when some new mechanical system piques his interest while the other one just gets bored of his characters (or something). I’m not a fan of this. RPGs are, to me, about the stories you create together and changing a character disrupts this (It’s also the reason I don’t join games after they’ve already started – I’m not privy to the shared storytelling that’s already taken place). In some ways, having someone else change characters ruins my character as well because those story threads get dropped. So, I was leery of this happening after the twist. Thankfully, it hasn’t happened yet. And I don’t really have any solutions if this were to happen. Hazards of the trade, I guess.

I have another player notorious for complaining that he “made the wrong character.” I think this stems mostly from his desire to be the center of attention in games (and, let’s be honest, in life). I’m not entirely on board with this either. I’ve made characters that don’t fit into games before and it’s not great. But, I’m flexible enough (I think) to adapt. I think there’s still cool stories to be made from the guy who doesn’t fit, or who desperately wants to fit but isn’t properly equipped (psychologically or emotionally – combat games need people to be combat-oriented to remain even) to do so. Hell, my last Shadowrun character was the antithesis of what that particular game was about, but I made it work (and probably annoyed people at the same time – win win?). So, I knew when I pulled this twist that I was going to get complaints about his character. When they inevitably arose, I tried to express the points I made above about apocalyptic stories being about ordinary people overcoming a world gone wrong. Gaming’s a leisure time activity and I’m not going to be a dick about it – if he really wants to change characters, he can. But, thankfully, I think I convinced him (at least for now). So, that can definitely be a downside of pulling a twist like this.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled session write-ups.



  1. The other one just gets bored of his characters (or something) – ok, first of all I actually haven’t done that for years and when I change characters now its before the game begins and I didn’t finalize characters.

    I have another player notorious for complaining that he “made the wrong character.” – Yea he did that a lot with the big reveal.

  2. Did not realize I was notorious for it but thinking on it…yep its probably true. Also can cope to being an attention whore in games, though I have tried to moderate that in the past two years. As for being an attention whore in life…that is just mean.

    • I didn’t call you an attention whore. You called yourself one. Which just sounds like you’re trying to dramatize the situation. So typical of attention-seekers. 😉


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